HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Huntsville City Schools (HCS) said it has reached a settlement agreement with the family of a 15-year-old Huntsville High School (HHS) student who died by suicide after his family said he was bullied at the school.

The school district will pay the Shelby family $840,000 as a part of the settlement agreement.

That lawsuit was filed by the family of Nigel Shelby, a HHS freshman who died by suicide in 2019. The family says his death was a result of bullying for his sexual orientation.

A school system news release said the settlement is not an admission of liability by the district or any HCS employees. A “fiscally sound decision,” the school states, was at the center of the agreement in order to mutually resolve the matter.

“First and foremost, we continue to extend our thoughts and prayers to Nigel’s family, friends and school community,” said HCS Superintendent Christie Finley. “While we understand nothing can replace the life of a student, it is our hope that the settlement will bring a sense of peace and closure to all involved.”

In June of 2019, Shelby’s mother, Camika, hired Benjamin Crump and Jasmine Rand, two high-profile civil rights attorneys who had represented the family of Trayvon Martin. The lawsuit states that HHS failed to follow its own procedure, counsel Shelby or notify his parents about what was happening.

The lawsuit included nine counts including Title IX violations on grounds of gender/sex discrimination, Title VI violations based on race discrimination, Equal Protection Clause violations based on race and sex discrimination, recklessness willfulness and wantonness, negligence, premises liability, breach of contract, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

On March 28 the school board approved the settlement agreement during a meeting. The news release said along with the payment, several policy changes were part of the settlement include:

  • Making updates to the district’s policies
  • Ensuring the district’s families are aware of those policies and all anti-bullying procedures
  • Offering high-quality professional development for staff
  • Continuing to implement its ongoing suicide prevention efforts for students
  • Expanding its current climate surveys for students
  • Strengthening its tracking of complaints of bullying in schools

“You can’t put a price on a child. This lawsuit was about bringing change. It was about acknowledging that there needs to be change. It was about saving someone else’s child so that they don’t have to go through the horrible tragedy that I have. I hope this settlement will help bring about that change,” Shelby’s mother said in a press release from her attorney.

The school system will also have to provide annual reports to the Shelby family for three years to prove HCS is showing compliance with these changes, according to the family’s attorney.